Social Security Credits
Credits are the "building blocks" we use to find out whether you have the minimum amount of covered work to qualify for each type of Social Security benefit. For most people, the minimum number is 40 credits. If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify for benefits, your credits will stay on your record. If you return to work later on, more credits will be added. No benefits can be paid if you do not have enough credits.
If you do not have at least 40 credits, you are not currently entitled to a retirement benefit, but you may become entitled with additional work. Read our publication, "How You Earn Credits," for more information.
Also, if you are not entitled to retirement benefits based on your own work record, you may still be entitled to benefits on the work record of a current or divorced spouse. For more information:
- Read our publication on "Survivors Benefits," if your spouse (or ex-spouse) is deceased, or
- Visit our "Benefits For You As A Spouse" page.
We have a variety of calculators to help you plan for the future and for what you may need now. Learn more at our calculations page.
How Credits Are Earned
The way you earn a credit has changed over the years. Currently, when you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn up to a maximum of four "credits" per year.
Before 1978, employers reported your earnings every 3 months and we called credits "quarters of coverage," or QCs. Back then, you got a QC or credit if you earned at least $50 in a 3-month calendar quarter.
In 1978, employers started reporting your earnings just once a year. Credits are now based on your total wages and self-employment income throughout the year, no matter when during the year you did the work. You might work all year to earn four credits, or you might earn enough for all four in a much shorter length of time.
The amount of earnings it takes to earn a credit may change each year. In 2019, you must earn $1,360 in covered earnings to get one Social Security or Medicare work credit and $5,440 to get the maximum four credits for the year.
During your lifetime, you will probably earn more credits than the minimum number you need to be eligible for benefits. These extra credits do not increase your benefit amount. The average of your earnings over your working years, not the number of credits you earn, determines how much your monthly payment will be.
Read our publication, "How You Earn Credits," for more information.
Number Of Credits Needed For Retirement Benefits
The number of work credits you need to get retirement benefits depends on your date of birth.
If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 40 credits (10 years of work). People born before 1929 need fewer than 40 credits (39 credits if born in 1928; 38 credits if born in 1927; etc.).
Number Of Credits Needed For Disability Benefits
The number of work credits needed for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which being earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.
These are the rules; if you become disabled:
- Before age 24 - You may qualify if you have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.
- Age 24 to 31 - You may qualify if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for 3 years of work (12 credits) out of the past 6 years (between ages 21 and 27).
- Age 31 or older - Find your age below to learn the number of work credits needed.
Born after 1929, Became Disabled At Age Number of Credits You Need 31 through 42 20 43 21 44 22 45 23 46 24 47 25 48 26 49 27 50 28 51 29 52 30 53 31 54 32 55 33 56 34 57 35 58 36 59 37 60 38 61 39 62 or older 40
Number Of Credits Needed For Survivors Benefits
The number of credits needed for family members to be eligible for survivors benefits depends on your age when you die. The younger you are, the fewer credits needed, and nobody needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work).
Under a special rule, we can pay benefits to your children and your spouse who is caring for your children even if your record doesn't have the number of credits needed. They can get benefits if you have credits for one and one-half year's work (6 credits) in the three years just before your death.
If you are already receiving retirement or disability benefits at the time of your death, we will pay your survivors based on that entitlement. We will not have to determine your credits again.